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The Hulk

The MPAA rated The Hulk (2003) PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some disturbing images, and brief partial nudity.

He’s big. He’s green. And he’s mad. After a hiatus from the screen, this 40-year-old Marvel comic book hero is making a much-anticipated return to film.

Following months of teaser trailers and advertising blitzes, is all the buildup worth it? Ticket buyers will ultimately decide. But after 138 minutes (most of which was spent filling in background material and waiting for Bruce Banner to get mad enough to bulk up), the product unfortunately may fall short for all but the most avid Hulk fans.

Searching for a breakthrough, Dr. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is working on a high tech project at a Berkley lab. Using nanomeds and gamma rays, he and fellow scientist Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) are trying to perfect a technology that will allow the body to heal itself in seconds. One day a glitch in the gamma machine requires some fine-tuning. During the procedure, an accident occurs and Bruce takes a full dose of radiation while trying to save a co-worker (Kevin Rankin).

Suddenly the genetic experimentation his father (Nick Nolte) performed on him years earlier is activated by the high-powered waves. Now when tempers flare, it turns into a BIG deal.

In addition to working with Bruce in the lab, Betty’s romantic feelings for the “emotionally distant” man play into the story. Convinced that something in his past is deeply repressed, she wants to help him face his anguish. She realizes his anger is likely caused by emotional pain rather than physical and tries to intercede when the military, under the direction of her father (Sam Elliott), launches a full scale offensive assault on the ticked off mutant.

But with the unexpected appearance of Bruce’s father and the money hungry involvement of a competitive lab owner (Josh Lucas) trying to raise the ire of the altered scientist, a calm approach to dealing with the tantrums is nearly impossible.

The computer generated Hulk is now bigger, can jump farther, run faster and throw heavier objects than Lou Ferrigno (who played the Hulk on the TV program and makes a cameo appearance in this film) ever could. And it’s that amplification of everything hulkish that makes this character harder to relate to despite our common human battles with internal anger.

While most grades fall into the B category (B for a brief bare bum scene is the only concern for sexual content), the film has plenty of raging mutants, bullets, bombs, exploding missiles and tank fire designed to disarm the experiment gone wrong. Even more disturbing than the expected comic book violence is a sideline story dealing with a gruesome stabbing that pushes the violence quotient to the high end and garners the film a PG-13 rating.

For parents, that rating may be the biggest issue, especially when much of the pre-release hype seems intended to grab children’s attention. For weeks before he paraded onto the screen, the incredible Hulk has been showing up on licensed merchandise, food products, and even a limited edition credit card. He’s starred in commercials and print ads aimed at a variety of age groups including highly imitative youngsters.

Whether this version of The Hulk proves to be bomb or blockbuster may, in the end, depend largely on how well promoters have sold this big green guy to the public.

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